Poem of the Week / Cadillacs Aren't Only for Driving

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“A front seat like a bed” — 1960 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.Credit: Wikipedia

Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Come down to the water. Bring your snare drum,
your hubcaps, the trash can lid. Bring every
joyful noise you've held at bay so long.
The fish have risen to the surface this early
morning: flounder, shrimp, and every blue crab
this side of Mobile. Bottom feeders? Please.
They shine like your Grandpa Les' Cadillac,
the one you rode in, slow so all the girls
could see. They called to you like katydids.
And the springs in that car sounded like tubas
as you moved up and down. Make a soulful sound
unto the leather and the wheel, praise the man
who had the good sense to build a front seat
like a bed, who knew you'd never buy a car
that big if you only meant to drive it.

From “Apocalyptic Swing,” © Persea Books, 2009. Reprinted with the author's permission.


The seasonal migration of poets begins around mid-May when the academic year ends in the United States, where many poets are writers in residence at universities. Among the visitors to Israel this year is Gabrielle Calvocoressi, a guest of the "Second Site – Displacement, Revelation" conference at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan.

Calvocoressi has published two volumes of poetry. The recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, she is the senior poetry editor at The Los Angeles Review of Books and teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives in the nearby town of Carrboro, where she is working on her third collection of poems, “Rocket Fantastic.”

Along with English-speakers raised on the King James Version of the Bible, many Israeli readers of this poem by Calvocoressi will recognize the reflections of Psalm 100 and will understand the meaning of “jubilee” as involving agriculture, property and the emancipation of slaves, as in Leviticus 25:10: “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

Somewhere along the line, the Hebrew word translated as “jubilee’ – yovel – became related to the Latin jubilare – to shout with joy. In modern times, a "golden jubilee” has come to mean a 50th anniversary, and a "diamond jubilee" is a 60th anniversary – in any case, in Israel, a jubilee is an excuse for partying.

In Calvocoressi’s poem – a celebration of human and natural fallibility – the title refers to a big bash with free seafood. Every so often during the summer, sometimes more than once a year, the oxygen level in the water of Alabama’s Mobile Bay off the Gulf of Mexico plummets to less than the amounts required by bottom-feeding fish and crustaceans. In massive numbers they seek air in the shallows and many crawl onto the shore, a phenomenon called “jubilee.” With nets and buckets people scoop up the bounty of flounder, shrimps, clams and more – inspiration for local pride, music and a huge community beach party.


*Elvis at a beach party: 

Gabrielle Calvocoressi.Credit: David Waldorf